This month’s article in Scientific American was so interesting to me. “Why We Have So Many Problems with Our Teeth” was written by a dental anthropologist/evolutionary biologist (what I want to be in my next life!) who has studied these things for over 30 years. It explores the amazing composition of our teeth and those of our ancestors, the unimaginable stresses they endure, and what factors have affected how they have changed over time.
The author posits that we have not yet been dealing with modern issues long enough for our teeth to evolve, which is why we are not responding well or successfully (on our own presumably – without the help of a dental drill!) in the face of the bacteria that inhabit our mouths in today’s environment. This “dysbiosis” is so hard to fight. Our modern diets started with the beginnings of agriculture, and got a significant bump during the Industrial Revolution with processed foods, the problem being that it is composed of a high percentage of wheat/starch/sugars. This allows the acid-producing bacteria that thrives on those sugars to thrive and release acid on the tooth, resulting in tooth decay.
The other issue is the softness of modern food, not allowing for attrition or wear between the teeth that more primitive species evolved to sustain, so we have dental crowding and teeth being too big for the size of the mouth that they sit in… thus our orthodontic problems and wisdom teeth impactions (and possibly sleep apnea because jaws didn’t grow enough for the airway to be big!), which present in most modern-day teenagers.
I guess until evolution catches up, we are stuck dealing with cavities and tooth crowding in the best way that we can: lower-carb diet with fat-soluble vitamins, xylitol to fight acid-loving bacteria, high-pH exposures of teeth, and continuing to explore the world of saliva testing, oral probiotics and even microbiotia transplants to prevent decay; and growing jaws with palatal expanders and good high tongue-at-rest position/nasal breathing/oral myology exercises. Someday maybe dentists won’t even be needed anymore!